Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Hype

I could possibly be beginning to believe the hype- A person needs to be happy or at least know how to make themselves happy before anyone else can make them happy.

As I left the house yesterday to proceed through my regular Tuesday routine, I found myself grinning.  I went for dinner at Grand Indonesia mall like the last month of Tuesdays.  I go with or without company and I splurged last night.  I went to Pizza Marzano, had a margherita pizza and iced tea.  It was fantastic and I ate it all, a 10" thin crust slice of heaven.  The splurge was well deserved and kept me smiling right on through dinner. I then made my usual trip to Kempi Deli.  Their perishable goodies are half off after 8pm. I've started buying them out and reselling the quiche, meat pies or sausage rolls to the boys at work. Nearly all of them have families and live in the 'burbs so they don't get in for those specials any more. There used to always be at least A meat pie or a sausage roll. I think the owners realized how many were ending up at 50% off so they're making fewer.  Last night was the third week of no pies/rolls and the first time I felt let down by it. Four quiche and four mini croissants are nothing to turn ones nose up at though.  I ended with ladies night and my ladies at MO bar in the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Most of the good bars here are in hotels. I suppose it's logical, but I wonder if anyone ever really gets too drunk and decides to stay.  I know management's fingers are probably crossed anyway.

Several months ago, I was the first to arrive at a group function.  I was waiting in a bar where I was the only foreigner which made me the center of attention.  I've spent a lot of time, especially here in Jakarta though not only here, being uneasy as a center of attention. I've never considered myself as one happy to be or looking to be the center of attention. Being a bule (foreigner in Indonesian, though some consider it the equivalent of gringo) only triples the attention.  I am noticed everywhere I go.  In Spain, in Portugal, and Italy and Hungary I could blend in.  In each of those countries the locals spoke to me in the local language.  Even in Guatemala it wasn't as glaringly obvious.  OK, Denmark didn't work quite so well but I was only there a week!  So I was in this  bar, text messaging my friend, desperate for him and the others to show up.  He told me to live it up and be a star.  "Know that all the men want to be with you and all the women want to be you".  It still makes me smile. I wouldn't have believed it from most people, but he's quite the salesman.  Jakarta is a place that I feel it might be true.  The bule worship here is ridiculous. (more as an addendum below). I was able to rock it alone until the posse showed up, and didn't hide in the corner to do it.

Yesterday as I left my building, I walked across the patio and the 2 teenage boys that live here, or belong to someone who does, both smiled.  The ojek drivers just outside know me.  I'm learning their name but I know the regulars by sight.  I think the laugh at me on a regular basis but without real malice.  It probably more because they cannot wrap their heads around me. I know they laugh when  I get on the back of a bike side-saddle  at 7 pm in a skirt.  They notice and the whole neighborhood is secretly laughing, I like to think with delight, at this silly white girl who love the bike rides.  At the mall, I dismounted and headed for the appropriate, though not the closest entrance.  A pack of teen boys were milling about.  One said hi, so I said hi back with a smile.  "Nice dress miss" and my smile was ear to ear.

It might not matter what you wear, if you're having a good hair day or even how hot you are.  Maybe wearing a smile is the most important accessory.  Indulge me a moment. After working my way through six seasons of Sex and the City, I might be feeling a little Carrie Bradshaw.  No, I didn't see SATC when it was on TV, I didn't think it was me.  Yes Nora, you were right. Just like you were right on Monday. We were out at a restaurant called Potato Head, and to my chagrin, there were no Mr. Potato Heads on the tables. I was a mess when we arrived as I'd been caught not in one, but TWO storms that evening, both while riding on the ojek. After the first deluge I'd opted for jeans and something waterproof before heading out again. My hair was a frizzy mop, no make up, barely even lip gloss.  Its always those nights that a cutie walks by.  Nora gave me an excuse and pushed.  I asked him to take a photo of us.  He has perfect English, a great smile and cracked a joke. By the time we left we'd exchanged blackberry pins (that's what the cool kids do these days I've learned.  Phone numbers are sooo 2008).  Perhaps we can always push our friends to make a move because we can see in them what we often fail to see in ourselves.  As our friends, we see them at the beautiful, interesting, sexy, amazing, independent women that they are.  Obviously I don't speak for everyone, but I know there are regularly times that I don't feel any of that.  I am getting my Master's in the "fake-it-until-you-make-it" theory. It rarely works as well as you'd hope.

I can see my friends and know they are way too fantastic to be alone, unless that is their chosen condition. Why can't I see myself that way?  The new goal, find something to smile about and do just that.  Random things that made me smile in the last 3 days include:
* Feeling like I might just have taken a decent school photo
* Being in a place where I had to take a school photo again (ahhhh reminescing)
* Still thinking it's funny every time we go by a hospital here and seeing 'rumah sakit' which means hospital but also knowing that rumah is house and sakit of pain. This inevitable leads to thinking about house of pain which is the last thing you'd want a hospital to be. Jump Around!
* being honestly tickled that my ojek driver managed to message me "Miss, I met you for school tomrw, ya ok?"  He's never said more than 2 words in English to me, and just 3 days before I had to remind him that I speak very little Indonesian, I needed him to slow down.
* Seeing a guy on the back of a motobike trying to wrap his arms around a long skinny box with a 32' LCD tv, then five minutes later seeing a guy with one of the older version 32' tvs, the ones that are as deep as they are wide.
* Having smashed my knee yet again just as I was thinking, and as a friend said "be careful".
* The Minnesota Public Radio Podcast Single of the Day is from the new Ray LaMontagne disc.  I love him anyway but the disc title is "God willin and the creek don't rise" which is something my dad used to say.
* Vampire Weekend is doing a concert here in Jakarta.

I can't say this is a "grateful journal" or a "happiness diary" or whatever bullshit name they use to sell stuff like that, but when I see people who have to wait in line at the bus stop near Setia Budi for what must be hours.  The whole platform is full, and the line stretches the length of the pedestrian overpass bridge. They wait because the bus is only 2,000Rp. and a taxi or even ojek is too much . . well, it's a humbling reminder.  If the woman sitting on the side of the street every morning selling her 20 fish in the stink and the trash can chat with the women beside her and laugh, then what's keeping me from finding a smile?


Indonesians think that whiter skin is more attractive, no matter how much I explain that most Westerners think tanner is better.  This morning I saw a woman carrying a child of no more than two, with the tell tale white crust on her face from whitening cream. I hate to think what toxic chemicals are in there. Most motorbike riders where long pants and long sleeves not for safety but because they don't want their skin to get any darker.  The basis for this was originally the same as the men that have the creepy creepy long finger nails.  Lighter skin is a sign they don't have to do manual labor out in the elements, therefore a sign of wealth (or relative wealth).  I personally believe it's also part of the reason that many of the Chinese have a superiority complex; they are generally lighter skinned.
I've had my picture taken by many Indonesians. It's a phenomena I can't really wrap my head around.  I don't know what they do with the photos, or why its a socially accepted thing to ask (gesture really) to get photos with bule at monuments and parks.
Part of it is the opportunity to catch a bule ticket out of dodge but I think it's more than that. I just can't quite figure it out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fighting the flinch

Motorbikes. They have become an unavoidable force in my life.  If you've been reading along in these first few weeks, you'll know it's not been an easy road (no pun intended. . . well maybe a little). My latest observation is regarding the an unintentional flinch or wince.

I've become very comfortable on the back of a bike. I occasionally ride side saddle when I'm in a skirt.  I know enough to always mount from the left side because there's no hot muffler there (I do have a brilliant purple scar on the back of my left calf from a muffler, but not my driver and not when I was on the bike).  A friend has noticed that I hop on and sit stone still looking and feeling relatively at ease while she spending the entire ride terrified and lurching. I believe that my nerves of stone - I'm building up to nerves of steel-have come from just being on the bike for tens (and twenties) hours, literally, every week.

Keys to success: don't try to look around the driver, it unbalances the bike. Not looking also help you fight the flinch.  All the modes of transportation move about here in EXTREMELY close quarters.  As a rider, if you wince and pull back, the bike moves.  This may unintentionally cause a hit/accident as opposed to helping avoid one. I can't count how many close calls I've had but only one hit. Finally, good posture and a good position. When you first get on the bike, scoot, move whatever so you'll be in a position that you can sit in for the duration of the ride. Use your core strength to stay firmly planted on the seat and skip the ab work at the gym.

I spend my time learning new Indonesian words and watching the people who are watching me.  My head and neck swivel for many reasons.  One of which is watching the world go by from the back of a bike.

This was me on Monday, in a downpour with headphones, mask against pollution, helmet and rain coat on.  Not pictured are my sexy blue plastic pants.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

To swim and swim again

Last Friday I MC'ed (as an English teacher I still have no idea how else to write MC in the past tense) a swim meet.  It motivated me to get in the pool yesterday.  It felt wonderful, maybe because I limited myself to only 800 meters or maybe because it's been the longest, non-familial relationship of my life.
our pool is 2/3's covered, the middle is open, rain or shine, 5 lanes 25 meters.  This is third grade 50m freestyle.

Swimming and I have had a relationship that's contentious at best. I was in infant classes before I could walk. There are a few great pictures that come to min of me at about 6 months old in moms arms happily flailing about in the pool. At age six they told my mom to put me on the swim team because they couldn't have me repeating the upper level classes again with the older kids.  Kent Area Dolphins and Coach Jim were the start.  I can't even remember those first year and meets.  I know they happened, mom is want to let me forget. There are a few pictures around I'm sure.  By 8 or 9 I was very aware that most people didn't spend as much time in the water as I did, but I loved it.  The pool and that swim team was my community.  I was swimming three nights a week with a meet every month or two. I learned the strokes, techniques, how to follow a meet in a heat sheet and how not to get disqualified.

By high school much of my time and most of my identity was tied to swimming.  I started working at 15 and a half as a lifeguard.  I participated on a year round swim team swimming five or six days a week with them. Three months a year there was also the high school team. This was 5 days a week but much more laid back in comparison.  More for camaraderie than competition. I was know as "Melissa the swimmer" or felt I was. I spent more hours at pools most weeks than any other single location or so I thought.

After 3 years of shoulder pain, I was done in.  I'd been seeing physical therapists and physio specialists for ages.   My shoulders would start to hurt, I'd dial back on the number of hours in the pool, no butterfly, no paddles. I'd go back to icing after practice, filling up on the anti-inflammatories (yes, my kidneys are probably shot) and visit for restrengthening and stretching.  after 4-6 months I'd feel better again so I'd start to increase the hours of swimming again.  By the eighth go around or so, I was tired of the routine.  The doctor was getting ready to send me back to physio and I told him it would just be another repeat.  I was scheduled for an MRI and sure enough, physio wouldn't have fixed the problem.  Over the next year I had surgery on both my shoulders. "General debridement" which entailed cutting out all the little torn bits of muscle and cartilage that had frayed out as well as hitting the joint with micro-waves to tighten everything up and add stability.  My senior year of high school I limped through the high school season because they told me  that I "couldn't do any more damage" so I could carry on as long as I could manage the pain. Over the years I managed to do alright despite the injuries and the fact I had "no natural talent" as proclaimed by my coach when I was about 9.  I made the State meet two years, districts all 4 years in high school and held my own at regional's over many years.  I used to wonder what would have happened if I hadn't gotten hurt, but that's an exercise in futility.

I was happy to see such hopeful faces.  I was amazed how small they all looked in baggy swimwear and huge goggles.  I sat through just over 2 hours of swim meet, outside in the heat and humidity, yet never lost the smile on my face.  And now, I'm counting down the 2 hours and 15 minutes until my classes and meeting are finish, when I can go hop in the pool again.  Twice in one week, I might be 6 years old again.

* the original post was at 12:45.  By 15:20 our meeting was still underway and unfortunately swimming postponed for another day.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The last P, with miscellaney

If the title doesn't make sense to you, you should probably read the previous blog.
            I enjoy the challenge of learning language.  I realized in Guatemala how rewarding it is.  When you progress to finally being able to have mini conversations, like I can now in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Language). I can understand and answer simple questions, though I am still at the point where I can understand more of what I hear or read than I can speak.

           I have always chosen to learn languages that are based on Latin letters, the same alphabet that English uses. ( for more information).  I figure it will save me time learning another writing form as I would have to for Mandarin or Korean.  There are some pronunciation difference, like I tell my students each letter has a name and a sound in English. And a common alphabet often leads to commonalities.  A case in point is what I have notices with English and Indonesian.  Indonesian is a young language.  Before the creation of the Republic of Indonesia each of the islands and often within the islands, there were different languages.  On the island of Java where Jakarta is located, most people spoke Javanese.  On Bali they spoke, you guessed it, Balinese. To unite the islands some linguists sat down to make a common language.  They wanted something simple enough that even the impoverished and uneducated could learn it.  They created a language based on Malaysian with Portugese and Dutch influences.  There aren't formal tenses of past or present. To refer to the past one uses "already", "before" or "yesterday", for the future "later" or "tomorrow".  This tends to leave foreigners a little confused as to when something actually happened.  I had that problem.  When someone told me they did such and such yesterday when I know they didn't.  Although, as I've been here longer I realize that time here is much more elastic and fluid than I first thought.  I also now say something happened last week when in reality it may have been three or four weeks ago.  There are no seasons, the daylight hours are always the same, the days are full and tend to run together.  I assume it was these factors as much as the language that has lent the culture to speak the way it does.

               The common thread I mentioned before was phonetic spelling.  I started compiling a list of some of the words I had never seen before but knew what they mean..  A good example: otomotif.  If you say it out loud, you'll know know immediately what it is.  Try it.  Did you guess automotive?  Some are obscure until someone points out how simple it is.  I asked a friend of mine what it said on the side of a food cart.  She said, "you know".  I said I didn't.  She told me to look at it again.  I looked at it and then gave her a puzzled look.  Es krim, huh?  "Think!  It's ICE CREAM" she told me like I was an absolute idiot.  Since then I think I've gotten the hang of the obvious.  The only thing you really must remember is that 'c' has a 'ch' sound in Indonesian.  Here are a few more: ekstrem, brosur, galas, sop, diskon.  That's extreme, broshure, glass, soup and discount.  Some are sooo obvious anyone will get them right off: taksi, servis, optik, kilnik, fotokopi and akupuntur. This is that I spend my time looking at from the back of a motorbike.  Now you all know much more Indonesian than you thought you ever would. Just remember there are still many signs that look like this that still require a translation:
courtesy of  Could the words be any longer?

            Unto the miscellany as promised.  I think the way Indonesians think of and refer to time often affects their work ethic.  (SIDE NOTE: I never promised or expected this blog to be politically correct or void of generalizations.  These are my thought sand musings.  I never use 'always' or 'never' in the strict senses of the word, so if I say I always eat fried rice with krupuk, that;s a generalization as I have obviously had it without krupuk before but usually, normally, or generally, I do have krupuk) Part of the ojek battle has to do with the work ethic.  Many people here are late, their work attire is tragic and no one seems to make a fuss.  I don't know why workers are always dressed so poorly.  A great example are women who work in banks or offices.  They wear skirts or pants and dress shirts but they are always poorly fitted, usually too tight and pulling at the buttons or hitched up in the wrong places.  This is in contrast to the office boys (I use boys not derogatorily.  Many are older men but' office boys' is the vernacular here).  They look like little boys wearing their older brother's clothes.   Ph, and women in their shoes!!  A woman could be dressed to the nines, but she'll wear sandals with heels and her toes will be half an inch over the front, curled over the edge of the shoe.

             On time here is fifteen minutes late, though if your excise is based on the weather or the traffic then you'll get a pass.  There really seems to be no emphasis or desire to work any harder than absolutely necessary.   When I asked my students at EF what their hobbies were, the majority will say sleeping.  Good luck to try and convince them that it's not a hobby.  The Indonesians on the street take it to a whole new level.  They seem to have the ability to fall asleep anywhere, at any time with no notice.  Ojek drivers at ojek stops (a corner in neighborhood where the ojeks hang out and you can pick one up) sleep before and between their rides. I find there are many things abroad I may never pick up as my own habit.

            Another note about differences.  In Jakarta the pollution is atrocious.  It's in the air from the growing industrial centers and the bajaj with old or no mufflers. The pollution in the water is a result of people using the water ways as garbage cans and toilets, mixed with anything that runs off in the rains and floods. But the pollution on land comes from a very simple, very obvious source. Walk down any street for more than two minutes and you'll see someone throw the wrapper from their snack on the ground.  There is no thought, no consideration of what else could be done with the empty plastic cup/chip bag/candy wrapper, practically all of it plastic. The trash piles up in corners, in gutters on street edges.  There are hardly any trash bins on the streets, but I still put my wrapper in my bag or my pocket and find one.  It's an interesting fact in contrast to the way some objects are used and reused.  There are tons of promotional banners, usually a tarp type material advertising a new drink or beverage.  These never go to waste and are re-purposed in many of the warungs (street side eating places, not mobile but very simple). I saw a push cart, maybe 3' x 6', used for hauling trash around with an wall sign from a building as the front wall of the cart.

             Clothes are repair and re-worn, then torn up and used for the material or for rags. It reminds me of the curbside "recycling" in Madrid.  If you have something of value (household items, clothes or furniture) that you don't want but is still viable for someone, put it on the curb at dusk.  99.398237 % of the time it will disappear before you leave for work in the morning. I like it, it means someone can reuse what I can't and it's easy. I also like how easy it is to find repair places here.  I was commenting to a friend yesterday as we picked her shoes up from being retipped.  In the US it may not be the cost that's prohibitive to getting shoes repaired, as it's finding a place to have it done. We in the West have become such a consumer society, that we automatically think to pitch it and buy new, not salvage what we have if we can.  I tend to think I reuse things more now than I did in the states.  That being said, I draw strange stares at the grocery store when I pull out my folded, material bags instead of getting the plastic ones here.

courtesey of
courtesy of

                With that in mind, I am consciously and conscientiously trying to move beyond the consumerism that is a plague on modern society. It's evident in Guatemala and Indonesia.  They look at the West, and associate wealth with the ability to buy things.  The malls here are all four stories or more high.  My students don't believe me when I tell them the malls that I know are one or two stories at most.  People here spend money on objects that others will see: a designer shirt with visible lables, i.e. Nike or Polo, new phones or mp3 players, cars.  That's money that could be used to relocate to a nice house or neighborhood, it could pay for education.  Those are not tangible objects in that there's no mass of people to see them and "oooh" about it.  I try to think about my purchases before I make them.  Is this something I need?  Can I live without it?  Will it be within the 100 pounds of stuff I am permitted to take when I fly out of Jakarta for the last time? Is it a gift?  I try to limit the purchases I make if the object doesn't fall in any of these criteria.  Instead I want to spend money on experiences such as travel, meals with friends and activities.  Then I have nothing to carry around, and I've made memories.

Friday, September 24, 2010

3 P's in JKT

This is not THE 3 P's as in a definitive list.  For those of you know know, this is not 3P, an entirely different adventure. These are 3 different and unrelated P topics that have occurred to me in the last day.


courtesy of 
          As an American, I grew up assuming every person and every country was an ally of Israel.  I learn about the atrocities of the Jewish history not only in school, but in my house.  My family is Jewish, or partly so anyway.  Jewish history was something I took a particular interest in, even if I'm not a practicing Jew. After years of reading, classroom lectures and the nightly news, it was a logical assumption. I knew there were a few allies for the Palestinian cause, thinking namely of Iran or Saudi Arabia or some other Middle Eastern country.  For want of real information, I filled in the blank with other "enemy" countries.  If the US didn't support Palestine and we were at odds with Iran, then they must be in cahoots. 
         I hadn't thought much of it since my arrival in Jakarta until an incidents fairly recently when the Israelis broke through a "Gaza-bound aid flotilla", the BBC's term.  During the time that this was occurring, there were mass protests outside the US Embassy in Jakarta. These were massive protests in a city where the populous likes its protests. In my time watching the world from the back of a motorbike, I've seen lots of Palestine stickers on bikes, cars and helmets.
          It makes sense that the largest Islamic state in the world would support it's brethren. It had just never dawned on me that anyone in Indonesia would be particularly interested in Palestine, especially when most people here tend to barely see past their neighborhood.


Another issue I didn't think of in context to religion; dogs vs cats.
   the kitten is courtesy of,
   the puppy from

          Equally adorable right?  The difference is that in Islam if a dog licks a Muslim, he must immediately go and wash thoroughly.  This means that few people here have dogs. There are a few street dogs (though vastly outnumbered by cats, rats and automobiles). The street dogs are treated horribly.  People stop at them, yell and throw things.  The dogs live in general misery and fear.  Even for dog lovers like myself, the dogs will not approach. If they're lucky, they find other dogs to pack up with which increases the chance of survival and quality of life marginally.

           Cats on the other hand are absolutely freaking everywhere.  They are great protection against the rats, if they are bigger than the rats which isn't always. They're the best thing I've seen against cockroaches since the roaches are bigger than the lizards here. The cats are particularly friendly in general but are harmless.  They tend to scatter quickly and avoid people but will mill about if there's food.

            The cats and dogs will break your heart equally.  Neither species get spayed/neutered so babies abound.  There is a momma dog just outside my kost (boarding house). When I first moved in there were two puppies with her, about 6 months old.  I was told one had been hit an killed just two weeks prior and one had died at birth.  Of the remaining two, one must have been hit last week because it disappeared.  Then this week the other one has vanished.  I'm trying semi-successfully to convince myself that someone adopted them, or took them to their village.   I was convinced that momma dog was in mourning until yesterday.  As I walked out to catch my ojek to work, I saw a mass of about 5 little tiny puppies.  It's either this momma dog or one other that roams nearby.  I'm mustering all my will not to bring one home.  I had a disastrous incident with a kitten in my second month here that wrecked me emotionally.  As much as I've always been an adopter, I have to fight that urge here.

              I used the term pets, but so far I've really been talking about street animals.  From what I can tell in student surveys, most kids have hamsters, birds, fish or turtles.  Turtles seem to be neck and neck with the hamster as the favorite pet which surprised me since in the States people always talk says that turtles bring more disease than other pets ("Salmonella!!!")

              Upon examining this blog post in the preview, I've decided to move the third P to a separate post but leave the title of this as is.  As a request, I'd like some feedback now that I've put up a few posts.  Are more shorter posts better? Longer posts but less often?  Is anyone out there?

When it rains, it pours

            When I say I'm from Seattle I get one of three responses: 1) Oh, that's where (Microsoft, Starbucks, Pearl Jam, Being, Jimi Hendrix) is from, right?  And yes those are about the only options ever known when you're abroad.  2) That's in America, right? 3) It rains there all the time, right?  There is a bit ore to Seattle than just the list from number 1, but I understand that it's not important if you're not from there.  Regarding number two I've had some interesting conversations.  One was with a student in Spain, an adult of intermediate to upper intermediate competency.  We'd been working together about three months when I showed up at her house for our regular lesson to be greeted with "HEY!!  There's more than one Washington!  There's Washington DC and Washington and you're from WASHINGTON!"  I've learned that most of the world only seems to recognize the one that's not a state and followed by two little but important letters.  We'd had numerous conversations about America but she hadn't understood where I was from, or why I complained about the distance to go home.  *as an aside, I realize many folks from countries outside the US (ahem, Rodrigo, ahem) will take issue with my use of America in place of US, USA or United States.  I began doing this when many other people, in other countries called the US "America".  No, it's not technically correct, America could be the three country grouping of North America, it could be both North and South Americas, but America is a term many languages use and I seem to have adopted it as well. If you are at all confused about where I mean when I say America please ask and I will provide an explanation.

            Coming back around to point, it does rain in Seattle.  A fact most people don't know or believe is that New York City gets more annual rainfall than Seattle does, yet Seattle is known for being a "rainy city".  The primary difference is the way it rains in Seattle.  I try to use London as a comparison because people think of London as a gray, city with lots of rain showers in the Autumn. From October or perhaps the end of September until the middle of spring in May, our normal winter consists of gray, foggy, rainy days.  In years past, the weather was not unbearably cold but oppressively blah.  Many people who move to Seattle are affected by SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder when a persons moods tend to follow the weather, therefore gray, unky days lead to depression. Some Washingtonians suffer from this as well, I know I have had my moments. Many "outsiders" will also notice that the weather forecasters on the local news have an excess of different words to refer to the rain, and for us they do all mean something different.  Rain, showers, drizzle, sprinkle, sprinkling, downpour, storm, torrential  rain, mist, dew, wet fog, etc etc.  Loads of people I have met were surprised that they went to Seattle and the weather was nice.  I nonchalantly ask when they went.  "oh, July".  Right because we do have a summer.  Seattle summers are brilliant too, hiking in the mountains, more lakes and rivers than you can shake a stick at, and the ocean if you want it.  It's rarely "hot", the last two year again being the exception with weeks over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius.  Just because Seattle is known for rain doesn't mean it rains 365 days a year.

            That said, I was shocked to move to places that routinely receive snow and lots of it.  Blame global climate change, blame La NiƱa, but it's happening and Seattle seems to be in a snow-upswing the last two years with enough snow to close the city. Of course Seattle, like Rome is built on a series of hills.  That combined with the fact that "Seattle never gets snow" mentality that leads the city to never invest in enough plows or salting trucks and everything shuts with an inch on the ground.  Or the snow melts due to an air current form Hawaii and then refreezes when we get Canadian winds that follow. A quarter inch of ice will screw things up just as badly.

            In Indonesia, as in Guatemala, the rain is an authoritative power.  The rain here can last 15 seconds as it did last week.  It was literally long enough for me to take two steps back to the door for a jacket and the rain stopped.  It can last days.  The rain can flood streets in a matter of minutes and can continue torrentially for hours. Thunder often shakes ones bones. The lightening can be seen for miles, with or without the rain. It's definitely the brightest, most impressive lightening I've ever seen.  It varies from a flash that lights to sky to a straight strike leaving one to wonder who god might have been targeting.
 I've seen intersections that look like this, though not huge sections of the city.  There have been places like this since I've been here and I've followed the new coverage. in the Indonesian language they call downpours or storms Hujan Besar, or in English "Big Rain".  Seems fitting eh?

            We are in a transition period from the dry to the wet season. Generally the wet season is October until March, and then dry season April until September. We are not, however, affected by the typhoon season that hits many of the Asia countries to our north. Jakarta seem to have been reached by climate change as well.  Most people told me that it never used to rain during Ramadhan (see previous post) and this year we had rain at least a dozen days.  A general rule of thumb is that the rain starts in October.  It is September 24th and I can remember more wet days in the last two weeks than dry ones. Afternoons start to cloud up and by about 3 o'clock the rain is imminent. I have been caught in more than one downpour.  As I ride an ojek to and from work, and as work lets out at 3:30 most days, I have invested in an uncomfortable, less than stylish plastic rain suit.  The jacket has a zipper and a hood. The pants could make Heidi Klum look like a hippo. The plastic keeps body heat trapped in like a zip-lock bag. But with raindrops as big as a quarter (or Euro) coin, and storms that last an indeterminate length of time, it beats waiting under a tree.  I have also given in to carrying an umbrella in places other than Seattle but as a true Seattleite, I refuse to use one at home.  Colombia jackets are always preferred.  I got some cool wellies last year, but mostly for the snow.

            Being from Seattle I've always taken note of the rain as you can tell.  I miss Seattle rain.  Wearing just a sweatshirt and shining from the drizzle but not ending up soaked.  The cool weather that necessitated an extra layer or two. The smell when rain is on it's way, and the clean rinse smell afterward. I even miss the mellow and occasionally depressing mood of those gray days.  Nothing lets a person really revel in a bad mood like that weather.  Oppositely, I am still amazing by rain that's not cold.  Rain that can swoop in and out like a swallow in a barn, starting and stopping so quickly it takes me by surprise. The fact that there isn't a change in smell but still a change in the way the air feels so you know it's coming. Lastly, the fact that SO MUCH rain can fall so fast.

           I know growing up in Seattle I must have done my fair share of complaining about the rain.  I can't recall but I'm sure my mom could ring in with her memories of me as a whiny kid. I always thought of myself as a warm weather lover, which I still am.  Not much makes me happier than spending days in the sun and wearing a new tan out. And yet, I am happy to be inside, listening to the rain as the world gets dark and using it as a great excuse to be home, alone, doing my own thing.

           I didn't realize I would write so long about rain but there you have it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

adendum to transportation

             Today was day 5 of riding with my new ojek and he didn't show to pick me up from school.  I sms'd. I called. He said he was on his way but there was traffic.  I waited 40 minutes (45 if you count the 5 minutes I was out there early). then I gave up and got another ojek.  Ojeks are usually faster and cheaper than taxis. They do subject you to the elements and pollution. Perhaps the biggest drawback of ojeks is that they are generally used for a certain area.  Therefore an ojek from Ceger (East Jakarta) where my school is doesn't necessarily know Kuningan (Central/South Jakarta) where my place is. In fact I find this more and more often to be the case.  After waiting 10 minutes for a security guard (very sweet of him actually) to get a local ojek willing to make the trek, i sat on the bike through rain and traffic only to have him totally blow not one but two turns, have to turn around northbound where the traffic was even worse and go back.  My original destination was Plaza Indonesia mall. I gave up.  I got off the bike and walked 10 minutes home. From here I will have to take another ojek to the mall.
               I have tomorrow off work and have to do a bunch of errands.  When my ojek Sokardi comes in the morning to drop my helmet off I'll offer him the work tomorrow. If not then at least we should be set for Thursday to work again.  It's sad that even after a crash and being late once in 5 days, he's still better than the last guy.  And to my estimation about par for the ojek course. All in all about two and half irretrievable hours of my life gone between the wait and the ride. Not to mention the aching back and worn patience. 
               As an aside, I think I have a new mission.  The buses and angkots here have names on the back, everything from Barcelona to Marie.  I am going to attempt to document as many of them as I can from the back of my ojek to and from school, especially the bizarre ones. They remind me of chicken buses in Guatemala, almost as colorful too.
               I just realized that in my intial catalog of transportation I forgot one.  It's not transportation in that it doesn't move people from one place to another, but it does hold up traffic.  These are the push carts.  They can be a "restaurant" on wheels or just a vendor but they find a place on the road too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My first Ramadhan and (another) Year

Ramadhan is a holiday that most Americans are barely aware of.  I knew of it when I was still in the States but it had no impact on my life and I didn't know the details.  I knew few Muslims, and the effects of Islam, even after 9/11 seemed far way.
In Spain there are large Muslim communities.  They have migrated north from Morocco and Egypt. Muslim kingdoms had once ruled most of Southern Spain and the palaces and mosques stand as their monument.  Buildings erected in the name of Islam rival those erected for Catholicism or Buddhism or any other reason for beauty and intricacy.  Anyone who has seen the Alhambra has seen evidence of such.  Even small local mosques here are amazingly intricate in their designs and decoration.

This was at Plaza Senayan mall. It's a temporary stage set up for performances during Ramadhan and Idul Fitri.

Spain was really the first place I became aware of the month long fast called Ramadhan or Lebaran.  In Islam followers are supposed to fast because Allah says so.  It's also as a routine, or following of tradition.  It is also to understand and sympathize with those who have less, or not enough. Many people I've talked to also think that their body benefits from the fasting.  It helps flush the body of toxins and the like.  I'm not sure how much I agree with that. A day of fasting maybe, but a whole month seems to deplete people.  By the end of Ramadhan (Idul Fitri) most people were cranky and sick, that includes those fasting and those just fed up it with it all (no pun intended). I know, I deal with some of the cranky ones, and met some of the sick one - hence I'm sick.
Indonesian  has 6 government recognized and protected religions. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Protestantism, Confucianism and Catholicism.  It's pretty incredible to think about. In a country that is over 80% Muslim, to have 5 other recognized religions goes against most of what the American anti-Muslim propaganda is. Now I'm  not claiming all Americans are anti-Muslim, but there is a big push towards the "all Muslims are terrorists" theory. Then again it may not be all it's cracked up to be.  There was a story in the paper last week about 2 Christian worshipers being stabbed on their way to the "church" (just an empty lot where they have been prohibited from building a church).  I think having accepted religions is a good first step to protecting a minority but only if it really provides protection.
I spent my Idul Fitri in Yogyakarta, the first capital city of Indonesia and it's center when it was a Buddhist kingdom.  The population is quite a bit more mixed there,  not an Islamic majority like in Jakarta. On Friday morning (keep in mind that Friday is the holy day for Muslims, not Sunday)I watched a procession at the Sultan's palace.  It was a series of Sultan's guards in different attire based on their unit.  The procession lead a conical tower of beans and vegetables to the neighboring mosque where it was quickly demolished by 3 teenage boys who threw the veggies into the crowd.  An onlooker told me that most people believe if you take them home, cook and eat them, it will bring you fortune in the coming year.  Which reminds me that it's now 1431 h. on the Muslim calendar.  In the nearly ten months I've been here we've had 3 new years and I arrived on January 7th missing the traditional one from the Gregorian calendar.  We celebrated Chinese/Lunar New Year in February, Buddhist new year (or was it Hindu?) a couple months ago, and Hindu I think.  It's a bit confusing.  At work I get holidays for Indonesia, Christian, Muslim and Korean occasions with the occasional Buddhist or Hindu one thrown in for good measure. I can't always keep track of why we have a day off, but I'm not complaining.
So far I've found people, in general, to be quite agreeable.  Many Muslims I know seemed surprised that I made a point of covering up during Ramadhan, as they said they didn't with a laugh. I have been Baptized since I got here.  When I went to the bank for my first Indonesian account, I had to chose a religion from one of the 6 govt ones.  I knew I couldn't communicate being an Agnostic in English let alone in Indonesian so I was "baptized Christian". After telling her I was Christian after a pause and her prompt,  I'm still not sure what box she checked.  It seems to go back to the basics of respecting others and their ways.
This green is typical for Ramadhan as are the scroll motifs.

Friday, September 17, 2010


This is the first Friday in MONTHS that I am home.  I am home and I refuse to go out tonight. I'm not on holiday, it's not a going away event, the band has moved on and I'm still recovering from a wicked head cold so I am staying home, alone, on a Friday night. Not only is it by choice, I'm utterly happy about it.
My life tends to run in ebbs and flows.  I'd imagine other people's do as well.  Mine was flowing. I moved into the city at the beginning of August.  By being in the center instead of the burbs to the north I have seen my social life grow exponentially.  The problem is that many people have left in the last 6 weeks.  That means lots of "last" things: last dinner, last dance, last drinks.  It's hard enough saying goodbye to people that are important to you, but after weeks of this, it took a told on me physically too.
Stack that on top of starting at a new school.  New children always mean new germs. I made it a month without getting sick, but I still got sick.  With the rate my 4-2 class was dropping 2 weeks ago, I was sure I'd get sick then.  I think it was the air travel that pushed me over the edge. 2 trips in 4 days, albeit short ones.  Then staying in a room with a fan, not AC.  Back to Jakarta meant back into the AC.  More walking, and walking outdoors and my body went down for the count.
Since I got sick I have also pinched a nerve in my neck, had my ojek 'crash' (relax, that's why I used the '. We were going slow and my driver hit the bike in front of us.  We went down, and my knee is throbbing but other than bruises and what promises to be a sore knee and elbow, I'm ok.  Thank you Asa for telling me to wear pants!) and wrestled with 2 days of migraines.
I'm at the point in the cold where most things have lost their taste because I can't smell and I'm constantly popping my ears. Sleep is the order of the weekend. Maybe next Friday I'll be ready to go out again.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Transportation is a right (as you have the right to be frustrated)

Jakarta give the word traffic an entirely new meaning.  If you can visualize any traffic jam in the States or Greater Europe you may think of lines of cars on a highway, not moving.  There might be a horn or two.  It generally happens on holiday weekends.  Labor Day  or Independence Day in the States is the best example.  In Jakarta, the traffic is worse than Labor Day all year round. Traffic doesn't line up in nice, neat rows. I have been at round-abouts with cars at 90 degree angles to each other.  A road that you'd think in the US could accommodate 3 perpendicular lanes of travel can be seem with cars 5 or 6 across, easily!

A secondary problem (or possibly the root of the problem) might be the variety of modes of transport.  There are cars in small, medium and Hummer size.  The most prevalent option is the motorbike/ojek.  Ojeks are like a taxi, they can be hired to go from point A to point B, but they are motorbikes. The price is set before hand so it's advisable if you only take ojeks on routes where you know the price.

  There is a small van who's door has been removed that runs like a short route bus.  A set route to help people get around the neighborhood.
 Or this kind:

There are large old smelly buses.  Not generally entirely road worthy but they run town to town, or suburb to suburb and they are cheap.  There is busway, a government run bus systems that connects SOME parts of the city with SOME other parts of the city.  It was intended to be a very available option for the masses, until the government ran out of money after building many of the stops.  Now there are lots of vacant stops without buses.

This one is not a government busway bus.
In some parts of Indonesia you can also find becaks (be-chaK). They are a three wheeled bicycle, two in the front and one in the back. 

There's a bench seat in the front for passengers and the driver is in the back. Let's not forget the noisiest option-bajaj.  And the pronunciation for that is Ba-jai.  Don't ask me how it ends up with two j's instead. it's like the motorized version of a becak, the mufflers are loud enough to permanently damage your hearing, the pollution may give you immediate asthma and the shocks (or lack there of) are enough to ruin your rump.  They are big enough for two foreigners or 6 Indonesians and have the benefit of being covered.  They top out at about 20 mph and are for short distances only.

As I have taken up a new job and new residence, I had to also find a means of transport between the two.  Before I was talking 10 minutes to work.  Now I have to travel from South-central Jakarta to East Jakarta.  Don't ask me to estimate the distance because I haven't the slightest. I decided that an ojek would be my preferred method of transport to and from work.  It it much quicker than the bus, though slightly more expensive.  It's lots quicker and cheaper than a taxi.  Plus, by having my own ojek guy, he will be at my door for pick up in the morning and at my school for a ride home. I'll have his cell number and he's basically on call for me. It's beneficial for him too because they don't usually know how much they'll make in a month.  With me, they'll have a fixed minimum and then can do other running about while I'm at work.  This was a great plan in theory.  IN THEORY.

My ojek guy turned out to be a whopping nightmare.  He was alright the first week.  Within the next three weeks we had the following incidents:
a) he couldn't pick me up because water in the muffler rendered his bike disabled.
b) he couldn't take me out because of a broken headlight and it was after dark
c) he was late on 3 out of 4 pick ups over 2 days
d) his phone, on different occasions, both ran out of battery and credit
e) he show up at the wrong place to meet me, without his phone, so after waiting an hour I gave up.
f) he show up 20 minutes late, then stopped for gas on the way to the airport. After which I had to sprint 300m to and through the airport to avoid missing my flight check in by only 3 minutes. All of this after I told him the day before that I had to go to the airport, to make sure he had gas and it was important he was on time.
g) he requested a loan on Friday after receiving his pay for the week on Thursday.
h) Final straw was finding a new guy yesterday for this morning.  The previous guy messaged me this morning telling me I could come pick up my helmet and rain suit  (that I paid for and tried to get the night before) and asked to be paid.  I told him that I had not only paid him what I owed him, but he's walked off with over 500,000 Rp in gas and mechanic money from the month.  He proceeded to message me 5 times over the next 20 minutes insisting that I owed him more money.  I would have hit him if he'd been in range.

I'm being the better, bigger and calmer person by letting it go.  i have found a new guy who will hopefully prove to be more trustworthy and have a bit more forethought than the last guy.  Sokardi, new driver, also has a newer bike with a slightly softer seat.  Yes, seat cushion makes a difference during 40 minutes rides.
Keep your fingers crossed just the same.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


I have my next post 3/4 of the way done and one ready in my head, but alas, I am on holiday.  I will post again on Monday when I am back in Jakarta.  New post of Yogyakarta, the book burning and Ramadhan to follow soon!

Monday, September 06, 2010

The catalyst

I realized I had to start writing when I ended up in Singapore on a Korean tour bus to get a work visa for Indonesia.
No one seems to understand why it's required that we go OUT of Indonesia to process a work visa for work IN Indonesia. Since I've just changed jobs, I had to head out to Singapore again.  I'm not complaining. Singapore is clean and organized. It has great Indian food and cheap shopping.  Last time I went (February) to process my visa for EF, I was on my own.  EF gave me a half a page of vague instructions; the most unsettling of which was "go find the man sitting under the umbrella in front of McDonald's.  give him your passport, your visa paper work provided by EF, and X,000 Rupiah".  I  have not met a single other person who completed this process for EF without a flash of doubt about doing this.  Who in their right mind just hands over money and their passport to a guy in front of McDonald's?  Well, we all do.  And for the most part we get the passports back.  I got lost in the mall on the way back to meet him.  To get to the street from the MRT (mass rapid transit-think subway) to the correct corner of the street takes some doing.  The malls connect underground and you must pass from one to the other underground because you are prohibited from crossing the streets above.  Singapore does love its rules.  I kept getting turned around in the 2 floors and 6 turns, 4 escalators and 200 meters to walk that it took to get out (funny enough I only went out that way once this trip and did it without a problem).  Because of this inane system I showed up at 4:10 instead of 4pm to meet him.  He wasn't there.  He refused to leave my passport with a girl I'd met earlier that day from another EF; good to know there were some safety precautions. The next ten minutes were filled with me panicking.  I couldn't find him, couldn't reach him or the EF office on my cell or a payphone and the realization that not only did I not get the visa (kitas) I wouldn't even be able to leave Singapore without my passport.   This mystery man, who had shown himself at the drop off to be less than friendly, turned up and proceeded to lecture me about not being late before summarily dumping my passport in my hands and swiftly walking away.
This time around was so completely different that I couldn't complain.
 I  was met at the airport by a Korean woman.  After 8 of us had gathered there we went out and got in a small mini bus.  It was quite nice inside.  I was the only "foreigner".  None of us were from Singapore, but they were all Korean. We trolled around the airport, waiting in the bus while the overly busy woman jumped in and out, for almost an hour.  We then proceeded into town.  I had to get new photos take because the ones given to me by the school were the wrong size. This was the point where, luckily, the woman pulled to the side.  she confirmed that I had been to Singapore before and asked if there was a part of the city I'd like to go to.  I said Little Indian. She promised they'd drop me there.  In the mean time, the tour started.  I was reading Paulo Coelho in English while the woman gave a narrative in Korean that sounded to me like "blah blah blah Chinatown blah blah blah Singapore".  I was grateful to get out and be on my own in Little India.  4 hours of shopping, roti prata, more shopping and walking later, I met the group at a hotel to head back to the airport.  She seemed genuinely surprised that I had a good day.  I had a good shop in the airport, especially the pharmacy, and managed to buy two bottle of alcohol to bring (sneak) home. Then headed to Jakarta.
I was relieved to see my ojek driver at the airport waiting.  That morning he'd been 20 minutes late to pick me up, we hit construction on the way and he had to stop for gas (though I'd asked him the previous day to make sure he was ready to go to the airport) and I ended up with a 500M sprint to and through the airport to the ticketing booth where the agent chided me as cutting the time close. More about the ojek issues to follow.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The start up

At the behest of friends worldwide, I'm giving in and starting a blog.  Life has been too surreal lately not to. I know I'll have to backtrack and fill in information.  I'm already promising those involved in my current adventures to change names to protect the innocent when appropriate.
I considered blogging when I first arrived in Indonesia.  What better time than when everything was just getting started.  And then I came face to face with the reality of lousy internet connections, getting settled (once again) in a foreign country and not making myself carve out time to do much of anything constructive. Now I've got time to kill at work where I need to look busy.  The internet is more or less reliable and I want to write so I don't forget.
More to follow soon. Stay with me as this gets up and rolling. I'm new to the blog game and there promises to be technical issues as well. Questions and comments are always appreciated as is any advice about blogging in general.
More soon as I begin to compose.